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Timeline: John Wooden, 1910-2010

A look at the life of legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden.

June 03, 2010
  • Students in Pauley Pavilion -- most of whom were not even born when Wooden coached his last game -- show their appreciation for the coach on the day the basketball floor was dedicated as Nell and John Wooden Court.  See full story
Students in Pauley Pavilion -- most of whom were not even born when Wooden… (George Wilhelm / Los Angeles…)

1910: Born the third of six children to Joshua and Roxie Wooden on Oct. 14, in Hall, Ind. His father, a rural mail carrier, takes care of the family farm, which has no running water or electricity. Like many farm families, the Woodens go bankrupt and lose their farm, shortly after moving to Martinsville, Ind.

1924-28: Wooden is a star athlete at Martinsville High. A four-year letterwinner, he leads his team to the state championship in 1927 and is runner-up twice (1926 and 1928). He is named All-State from 1926 to '28. During his freshman year, he meets Nellie Riley at a carnival. Describing it years later as love at first sight, the pair decide to marry as soon as John finishes college.

1928-32: Turning down a job to play professional baseball, Wooden enters Purdue University to study civil engineering but becomes an English major instead. He is named All-American for three years and graduates in 1932, the same year Purdue wins the national title and he's named college basketball player of the year.

1932: Marries Nellie Riley, who he would later describe in his autobiography, "They Call Me Coach," as "a pert, vivacious, captivating girl with a very vibrant personality."

COACHING YEARS

1932-34: Takes his first teaching job at Dayton High in Kentucky, where he teaches English and coaches all of the school's athletic teams. In his first year as basketball coach, the team has a losing season, the only one in Wooden's career. Over eight seasons (1932-39) he plays 46 professional games and averages 9.8 points. At one point he makes 138 straight free throws while playing for the Independent League Indianapolis Kautskys.

1934-43: Coaches at Central High in South Bend, Ind. His overall high school coaching record is 218 wins and 42 losses.

1942: Enlists in the U.S. Navy. Serves as a physical education instructor in World War II. Appendicitis keeps him from fighting in the South Pacific.

1946-48: After his discharge from the Navy, he moves to Terre Haute, Ind., to coach at Indiana State Teachers College (now Indiana State). He coaches the Sycamores to a two-year record of 47-14 and the conference title in 1947. The team advances to the finals of the NAIA invitational in 1948.

UCLA YEARS

1948: Named head coach at UCLA and guides floundering program (three winning seasons in previous 17 years) to first-year record of 22-7.

1949: Bruins win first conference championship.

1950: Leads UCLA to team's first NCAA tournament.

1956: UCLA completes a perfect league season (16-0), the first of eight under Wooden.

1960: Inducted into basketball Hall of Fame as a player.

1964: UCLA completes 30-0 season and beats Duke to win its first NCAA title. Wooden named NCAA coach of the year for the first of six times.

1965: UCLA beats Michigan for title No. 2. In the fall, Wooden has his eye on a prized recruit from Power Memorial in New York. He even uses Jackie Robinson to put a good word in about the program. When Lew Alcindor decides to enroll at UCLA, he becomes the first transcontinental college basketball star. Many believe Alcindor's 1965-66 freshman team could have beaten any varsity team in the country.

1967: Wooden and UCLA win their third NCAA championship.

1968: In front of 52,693 fans in the Astrodome, coaches the first-ever televised collegiate game in prime time. Wooden's No. 1-ranked Bruins, led by Alcindor, lose, 71-69, to No. 2 Houston, led by future Hall of Famer Elvin Hayes. UCLA later beats North Carolina to win its fourth national championship.

1969: UCLA becomes the first school to win three straight national titles and Wooden gets No. 5 in victory over his alma mater, Purdue. 1970: Jacksonville falls in final as Bruins celebrate sixth NCAA title and fourth in a row.

1971: Defeating Villanova, Bruins win seventh NCAA title, the fifth straight.

1972: Another perfect season (30-0) and another national title (eighth) with win over Florida State.

1973: Inducted into basketball Hall of Fame as a coach, the first to do so as player and coach. Named Sports Illustrated's "Sportsman of the Year."

1974: Notre Dame ends UCLA's 88-game winning streak. Win over Memphis State is for ninth NCAA championship.

1975: After UCLA wins in overtime against Louisville in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament, Wooden decides to tell his players he will retire at the end of the season. A 92-85 victory over Kentucky gives Wooden his 10th national title. "He has been college basketball," then-UCLA athletic director J.D. Morgan says on the day Wooden announces his retirement. "He has been the game. He's compiled records nobody is going to equal."

IN RETIREMENT

1977: UCLA's Marques Johnson is the first player presented with the John R. Wooden Award, given to the "Most outstanding college basketball player in the United States." Not only is the player's performance taken into account by a national panel of sportswriters, but also his character.

1985: His wife of 53 years, Nell, dies. John is first sports figure to receive the Bellarmine Medal of Excellence. One of the past recipients is Mother Teresa, whom Wooden once said he would most like to have dinner with along with Jesus Christ and Abraham Lincoln.

1994: UCLA beats Kentucky, 82-81, in the first John Wooden Classic. During the same season, the Bruins win their first NCAA title since Wooden's final-game victory over Kentucky in 1975.

1999: Named by ESPN as the greatest coach of the 20th century.

2003: Nell and John Wooden Court dedicated at Pauley Pavilion on Dec. 20 against Michigan State. President George W. Bush presents Wooden with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor an American can receive.

-- Compiled by Steve Pratt

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